Session 2: Understanding the Bible as a Whole

Houses of Learning

Jewish children were registered for the House of the Book at the age of 6 years. By the time the boys celebrate their Bar Mitzvah (13 years) or girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvah (12 years), they are expected to have memorized the Torah by heart. The Bar Mitzvah or the Bat Mitzvah is the coming of age ceremony. At this stage they are regarded as being responsible for their actions, having become Sons and Daughters of the Commandments. They have graduated from The House of the Book. 

The Training Process for a Jewish Rabbi

House of the Book

House of Interpretation

House of Allusion

a. House of the Book (Beth Sepher) 

In Beth Sepher all children had to memorize the Torah by heart before they reach their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. If they are able to memorize the Torah before 13 years old, they were allowed to proceed to the next books until they had completed memorizing the whole of the TANAKH. Sepher does not only mean ‘book’ but has the sense of “study” as well. They were taught to ask critical questions so they could dig deeper. The purpose was to understand the TANAKH as a whole and not only in parts. The teaching technique was and is to use Inductive questioning. 

b. House of Interpretation (Beth Talmud) 

The Talmud is the collection of Jewish oral tradition compiled to aid in the interpretation of the Torah. During this stage the students memorized other books after mastering the Torah. They also learned to interpret it correctly. A rabbi would mention a word or sentence and the students had to know where those words or sentences were found. They also had to be able to discuss the whole passage from which the clue was taken. In Beth Talmud, the students had to learn the various interpretations for each passage. They had to know more than just their favourite interpretation of a passage. 

In the beginning, this tradition was done orally, but after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and chaos occurred, the traditional interpretations were committed to writing. The tradition was compiled to help the Jewish exiles to understand the books when they returned to their land. When the Jews returned from Babylon, they had lost their ability to understand Hebrew language as they were forced to speak Babylonian during their exile, and thus they were unable to understand. So they needed help to understand the TANAKH and the Babylonian Talmud was produced. 

c. House of Allusions (Beth Midrash) 

In Beth Midrash the trainee rabbis were taught to master parables and allusions, using clues called remez and veiled references. The references often pointed to the previous chapter or verse, not only to the quoted passage or verse. The students learn to read the whole passage and rightly interpret it. 

Pay attention to the word allusion. It is not ‘illusion’. This is not merely looking for something in the writings which may or may not be the original writer’s purpose. These allusions were indirect references that were hidden or veiled. The connection to the verses in focus could be found by those who were diligent enough and learned to seek deeper understanding. The remez or the clues were always indirect and elliptical and never pointed to the correct passage directly. 

Parables were handled just as Jesus stated in some implicit responses for certain people. 

Matthew 13:10-17 New International Version (NIV) 

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. 

All these were teaching techniques used in the House of Allusion. To really understand the depth of His word, we have to be willing to search deeper. Some people took the searching and interpretation way beyond the intended meaning. This is why the Cabalistic Jews began looking for esoteric (that which can only be understood by a few people) hidden messages. Interpretations that were given to the wise or the initiated. 

We will take a closer look at the deeper levels of training as we enter the deeper levels of Deeper Bible (401 to 701). In levels 401 and 501 we will learn more about the House of Interpretation and in levels 601 and 701 we enter the House of Allusion. We will learn the correct way to interpret the Bible from the perspective of the whole Bible. But we will not get involved in the mystical and esoteric practices of the Cabalistic Jews. 

In this session, we will spend time looking at what was done in the House of the Book. So let’s try to understand it from a biblical perspective by implementing the young rabbis’ studying method. 

Quiz Heading eg. Spot The Passage

Quiz Heading e.g. Spot the Passage